An Interview with Philippe Morel

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 images via EZCT Architecture & Design Research

Philippe Morel is an architect and theorist, who cofounded EZCT Architecture & Design Research. Recently, I interviewed him over email about computation, internet data centers, and natural terrain:

Alessandro Bava: You outlined an urban theory that accounts for the internet as a powerful territorial/urban agent, could you expand on the idea of oceanic/porous urbanism?

Philippe Morel: I started to be interested in such an evolution of the world while working on my Master’s thesis from 2000 to 2002. The title, “Living in the Ice Age”, was coming from the fact that I considered the contemporary changes associated with the advent of computation not just as “another media-based revolution” but as a “geological” shift; a kind of a global earthquake produced by “computational drifts”, drifts that are opening a new age in human (post)history. I was speaking about a more extreme coldness than the one theorized by Andrea Branzi in the “Cold Metropolis”. The coldness of the liquid azote used for supercomputers cooling or sperm cryopreservation as well as the coldness of extreme abstractions produced by computational processes and formal languages. In fact the freezing of any kind of social life, and a freezing that is by the way asking as much energy to us as it does in air conditioning systems! In the introduction of my thesis then, I wrote that “what our civilization gave birth to after unreasonable efforts is a new kind of compound, something like the summation of the dynamite or nuclear energy power, of the intrinsic capacities of the human brain for conceptual abstraction, of the raw power of the computers for calculation and of the sensory performances of the human body.” I added that “my work would only be about trying to unveil the genesis of ...

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Wavelength: "The Paris, Texas of the Second Empire" by Lawrence Kumpf

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The Paris, Texas of the Second Empire

Compiled July 2012 by Lawrence Kumpf

The flâneur is someone abandoned in the crowd. He is thus in the same situation as the commodity. He is unaware of this special situation, but this does not diminish its effects on him, it permeates him blissfully, like a narcotic that can compensate him for many humiliations. The intoxication to which the flâneur surrenders is the intoxication of the commodity immersed in a surging stream of customers. -- Walter Benjamin, 1938

A phantasmagoric journey through mid-20th century Country-Western music inspired by Walter Benjamin’s "The Paris of the Second Empire in Baudelaire."

Like the poet as flâneur in Benjamin’s essay, the country singer holds a position as the susceptible vessel that embodies the incongruities and ruptures characteristic of modern life. Neither an active symptom nor proprietor of a solution for the social ills, the singer finds himself drawn into the intoxicating world of empathetic relations to, with and as commodity. We hear, perhaps more clearly then in Baudelaire, a voice speaking not from the elevated position of a social commentator or critic, but as the desire of the commodity and commodified. Connoisseurs of narcotics sing empathetic odes to inanimate objects and intoxicants, fortifying themselves in homes that are really bars. Hobos, trashmen and ragpickers walk the street collecting and picking through the worn out, exhausted items that have escaped our economy of exchange: the antiques of modernity, the images of obsolescence. The perpetual peregrinator, a rambling man, heroically stripped of the comforts of modern life finds himself stalking graveyards and mourning a loss that has yet to occur, the final refuge of his own death. In a way these songs embody the last gasp of a failed American politics, the moment before county western music slips into an emphatic listing of personal property as banal as Rick Ross’ "Trilla." The tragedy of our era is that the latent revolutionary desires present in Hank Williams Jr.’s "Fax Me a Beer" (not included in this mix) are forever doomed to find their outlet in an inane fantasy of endless technological advancement.

1.Porter Wagoner - The Wino
2.Jim Ed Brown- Bottle, Bottle
3.Porter Wagoner – Shopworn 4.Hank Williams – Men with Broken Hearts
5.Leon Rausch – Glass of Pride
6.Don King – Live Entertainment
7.David Allen Coe – Sad Country Song
8.Don Silvers – Play me another Hank Williams
9.Porter Wagoner – Bottom of the Bottle
10.Merle Haggard – Swinging Doors
11.Porter Wagoner – I Just Came to Smell the Flowers
12.D. Sheridan – Don’t Make Me Laugh (While I’m Drinkin’)
13.The Willis Brothers – Gonna Buy Me A Jukebox
14.David Frizzell – I’m Gonna Hire A Wino to Decorate our House
15.Frank Lowe - "Trash Man"

Lawrence Kumpf is a curator at Issue Project Room in Brooklyn, NY.

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Time and Revolution at the 12th Istanbul Biennial and ISEA 2011

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The 12th Istanbul Biennial and ISEA 2011 coincided this year, resulting in a jam-packed week of activity. At any hour of the day, there was a dizzying array of talks, performances, exhibitions, and art openings across the city of Istanbul. Organizing two high profile, international art events at the same time was a wise choice, as it produced an element of synergy between them. The biennial exhibition was especially attentive to the Arab Spring, and the effect this has had in the region, while ISEA was more oriented to the problems and future possibilities of technology. Taking in both the biennial and ISEA in the same week lead me to think about the power of technology, and its significance for both established and emerging democracies.

ISEA kicked off with a keynote entitled “Time to Live” by the writer and academic Sean Cubitt. Taking its title from the TTL mechanism used in the movement of data across a network or computer, Cubitt argued that the struggle over space and time is a defining aspect of digital media, and ultimately, that time becomes alienated in liaison with new technologies. Time, for him, was once a humanistic force, but has now become something that is used over and against humanity through its instrumentalization. In order to chart the progressive alienation of time, Cubitt points to the development of three forms of media that he sees as dominant beginning in the 20th century — spreadsheets, databases, and geographical information systems. These forms have fundamentally altered the use and understanding of both time and space, resulting in their management and optimization towards biopolitical ends. The grid is the organizational method used across spreadsheets, databases, and geographical information systems, and in the closing section of his talk, Cubitt offered the vector as an oppositional form capable of suggesting new alternatives to the grid. In order to unearth differing structures such as the vector, Cubitt urged artists and researchers alike to go back and revisit earlier, obsolete technologies and practices with a fresh eye.

Sean Cubitt's Lecture "Time to Live" at ISEA 2011

I had Cubitt’s call to re-examine history for new solutions at the back of my mind when I visited the Istanbul Biennial, as the show’s unique premise, organized around the work of Felix Gonzalez-Torres, seemed to similarly dig into the past in order to find pressing correspondences with the present. Curated by Jens Hoffman and Adriano Pedrosa, the exhibition spread across two large warehouses adjacent to the Istanbul Modern. The exhibition’s design, created by architect Ryue Nishizawa, was comprised of a maze-like series of various sized rooms without ceilings, whose entrances and exits emptied out into passageways. Corrugated metal covered the exterior walls of the rooms, giving it the semblance of a building or home. In the catalog, it was explained that the Nishizawa had intended to mimic Istanbul’s intersecting streets and alleys. If anything, the layout allowed for an overlapping exchange between the wide range of subjects explored in the show, as each room was either grouped works around a theme from Gonzales-Torres’ oeuvre or presented work by an individual artist.

 

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Collapse VII: Culinary Materialism (July)

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Collapse VII: Culinary Materialism "brings together work that explores, from many different perspectives, the multifaceted question of cookery. In this volume, a range of contributors - scientists, philosophers, chefs, anthropologists, artists - explore how philosophy and proto- scientific theory and experimental practice was linked at its outset to the culinary arts." From the introduction by Robin Mackay and Reza Negarestani (pdf):

Cookery has never been so high on the agenda of Western popular culture. And yet the endlessly-multiplying TV shows, the obsessive interest in the provenance of ingredients, and the celebration of ‘radical’ experiments in gastronomy, tell us little about the nature of the culinary. Is it possible to develop the philosophical pertinence of cookery without merely appending philosophy to this burgeoning gastroculture? How might the everyday, restricted sense of the culinary be expanded into a culinary materialism wherein synthesis, experimentation, and operations of mixing and blending take precedence over analysis, subtraction and axiomatisation? This volume, drawing on resources ranging from anthropology to chemistry, from hermetic alchemy to contemporary mathematics, undertakes a trans-modal experiment in culinary thinking, excavating the cultural, industrial, physiological, chemical and even cosmic grounds of cookery, and proposing new models of culinary thought for the future.

Proto-scientific thought and experimental practice, particularly in the form of alchemy, was linked to the culinary arts’ vital engagement with the transformation of matter. Indeed, how could empirical inquiry into nature, seeking to determine the capacities of matter on the basis of what lay to hand... be anything other than a culinary endeavour? Yet with the increasing specialisation of the sciences, philosophy has misplaced its will to extend such inquiry into a speculative philosophy whose power resides in its synthetic ambition as well as its analytical prowess.

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RECOMMENDED READING: Understanding Pac-Man Ghost Behavior

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Excerpt from Understanding Pac-Man Ghost Behavior by Chad Birch on GameInternals:

Each of the ghosts is programmed with an individual “personality”, a different algorithm it uses to determine its method of moving through the maze. Understanding how each ghost behaves is extremely important to be able to effectively avoid them...

The key to understanding ghost behavior is the concept of a target tile. The large majority of the time, each ghost has a specific tile that it is trying to reach, and its behavior revolves around trying to get to that tile from its current one. All of the ghosts use identical methods to travel towards their targets, but the different ghost personalities come about due to the individual way each ghost has of selecting its target tile. Note that there are no restrictions that a target tile must actually be possible to reach, they can (and often are) located on an inaccessible tile, and many of the common ghost behaviors are a direct result of this possibility...

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Radical Ethology: Jussi Parikka's Insect Media

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In a fundamental sense, technology is deeply non-human. While we might apply a humanist logic to the function and workings of technological systems, and view technological objects as extensions of the human body and its capacity for adaptive prosthesis, the very purpose of technology is to be that which the human is not or to achieve that which the human could not otherwise do. As such, technology exists beyond the humanist understanding of the individual, the body, and the subject, particularly in contemporary network culture in which technology is in part transformed from concrete and material objects into molecular, adaptive, and often invisible systems. Much as with the animal world, technology seems to suggest a mode of communication and media beyond that of human language, a mode of being or becoming that exceeds our own.

Diagramming the figure-eight wing movements of insect flight.

In Insect Media (University of Minnesota Press, 2010),1 Jussi Parikka traces an archaeology of non-human media. More specifically, he is interested in the relationship between animal and machine, and the unique history of the insect as a technological model from the late 19th century through to the present. While insects are often viewed as models for contemporary media practices such as swarming, smart mobs, and collaborative forms of production, Parikka makes insects the object of his media historical project, transforming "media as insects," into "insects as media."

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Required Reading: After the Screen: Array Aesthetics and Transmateriality by Mitchell Whitelaw

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1. Glowing Rectangles

For all the diversity of the contemporary media ecology - network, broadcast, games, mobile - one technical form is entirely dominant. Screens are everywhere, at every scale, in every context. As well as the archetypal "big" and "small" screens of cinema and television we are now familiar with pocket- and book-sized screens, public screens as advertising or signage, urban screens at architectural scales. As satirical news site The Onion observes, we "spend the vast majority of each day staring at, interacting with, and deriving satisfaction from glowing rectangles."

Formally and technically these screens vary - in size and aspect ratio, display technology, spatiotemporal limits, and so on. They are united however in two basic attributes, which are something like the contract of the screen. First, the screen operates as a mediating substrate for its content - the screen itself recedes in favor of its hosted image. The screen is self-effacing (though never of course absent or invisible). This tendency is clearly evident in screen design and technology; we prize screens that are slight and bright - those that best make themselves disappear. Apple's "Retina" display technology claims to have passed an important perceptual threshold of self-effacement, attaining a spatial density so high that individual pixels are indistinguishable to the naked eye (below - image Bryan Jones).


The second key attribute of contemporary digital screens is their tendency to generality. The self-effacing substrate of the screen is increasingly a general-purpose substrate - unlinked to any specific content type; equally capable of displaying anything - text, image, web site, video, or word-processor. This attribute is coupled of course to the generality of networked computing; since the era of multimedia the computer screen has led the way in modeling itself as a container for anything (just as the computer models itself a "machine for anything"). The past decade has simply seen this general-purpose container proliferate across scales and contexts, ushering us into the era of glowing rectangles.

However over the past decade in design and the media arts, a wave of practice has appeared which as this paper will argue, resists the dominance of the glowing rectangle. Given the near-total cultural saturation of the screen, this is unsurprising, given the ongoing cultural dance of fringe and mainstream in which this practice participates. This is not simply a story of resistance however. In proposing and describing two particular strains of "post-screen" practice, this paper aims firstly to outline the shared terms of their relationship with the screen, and in the process develop a more detailed sense of these conceptual devices of generality, outlined above, and its opposite, specificity. Secondly, and more briefly, it outlines a theorisation of this practice, invoking transmateriality, an account of the paradoxical materiality of (especially digital) media, and Gumbrecht's notion of presence.

-- EXCERPT FROM "AFTER THE SCREEN: ARRAY AESTHETICS AND TRANSMATERIALITY" BY MITCHELL WHITELAW

[Note: Whitelaw explored some of the ideas in this paper previously in his "Right Here, Right Now - HC Gilje's Networks of Specificity" republished in Rhizome News on December 20, 2009]

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The Search for a Center: Vito Campanelli's Web Aesthetics

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"Why look at Gustave Courbet when you can download free porn?" is a question posed by one of the animated characters in Parker Ito's sardonic Artist Statement (2009), a piece that both mocks and celebrates a selection of trite, blanket statements regarding media art. Ito's humorous animation is one of the many projects enmeshed within the dense weave of Vito Campanelli's new book Web Aesthetics: How Digital Media Affect Culture and Society (NAi Publishers), a sprawling examination of post-web visual culture and the cultural implications of various forms of digital media. While the last decade has yielded a considerable amount of scholarship judging and qualifying online interactions, tracking the transformation of identity and contemplating the changing nature of attention, Campanelli's writing project extends beyond these stock investigations and sets out to identify how the web has altered our means of experiencing and evaluating contemporary art and media. The browser, internet mailing lists, peer-to-peer networks, spam, MP3 files, vernacular video and numerous other everyday platforms and protocols are put under the microscope in the interest of cultivating a broad aesthetics of digital media. While these topical, episodic investigations are generally quite successful, Web Aesthetics is not lacking in fundamental structural and stylistic idiosyncrasies.

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Required Reading: Ever-Changing Chains of Work: An Interview with Constant Dullaart by Franz Thalmair

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For Constant Dullaart the Internet serves as a medium as well as a subject of artistic production. His main strategy is the exploration of the multifaceted languages of contemporary images circulating on the Internet and their re-contextualisation as found material in a medium of its own. With his artworks, the Amsterdam- and Berlin-based artist digs deeply into the caches of a networked cultural production without limiting the medium to simple technological traits: the default style of Web-based platforms, their widespread and often unscrutinised use as well as the popularity of globally standardised interfaces are manipulated with the aim of investigating their social potential.

Dullaart’s practice ranges from art made with and for self-explanatory domain names such as The Revolving Internet.com or The Sleeping Internet.com and video works such as YouTube as a Subject as well as the adoption of this series of short loops for the real space under the title YouTube as a Sculpture. Furthermore, he deals with site-specific installations such as Multi-Channel Video Installation, where projector mounts where borrowed from art institutions and taken to an exhibition space to serve as sculptural elements, as well as dealing with digitally manipulated images as in the series No Sunshine, where he applies the Photoshop default techniques to remove the sun from romantic sunset pictures found on Flickr. Brian Droitcour writes for Art in America magazine: “Dullaart’s ready-mades demonstrate his interest in what might be called ‘default’ style—the bland tables of sans serif text and soulless stock photography that frame ads for some of the most common search terms (auto insurance, cheap airline tickets, pornography), baring the underbelly of the Internet’s popular use.” . . . and the circle is turning and turning and turning—with no end in sight.

-- Excerpt from "Ever-Changing Chains of Work: An Interview ...


Something In The Air: Post-Industrial Ambience And The Control Society

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Cover of the 1990 compilation Q.E.D. on Staalplaat

At this point in time, it is easy to admit that we are living in a state of "etherialization." The primary characteristics of this state, as recognized by Arnold Toynbee, were that "cultures that remain static and uncreative in the human sphere often promote ingenious technical adaptations and inventions, whereas more creative cultures transmute their energies into higher and more refined forms […] their technical apparatus becomes progressively dematerialized." 1 The evidence of this is with us, simultaneously everywhere and nowhere, in the form of the internet, and also in the proliferation of increasingly miniaturized multi-purpose devices with a decreasing number of moving parts. From iPods to Oracle Database, internal organization becomes gradually more complex as the external, tangible and even visible becomes more superfluous, more symbolic than purely functional.

The Internet and the concurrent reign of digitalization are, however, just symptoms of etherialization - if particularly infectious ones - and not necessarily the driving engine of this state of affairs. The objectives of modern warfare, for example, are achieved by launching successful "psy-ops" campaigns or "p.r. offensives" which gain the international community's sympathies via successful transmission of images and sounds. Destruction of physical sites and human bodies is as cruelly present as ever, yet non-combatants' parsing of "etherealized" media imagery is no longer a sideshow to the "main" objective of laying waste to enemy infrastructure. Even terrorism, often used as a substitute term for asymmetrical warfare using "low-tech" improvisational means, regains a "symmetrical" standing here by utilizing the most high-tech information relays to accomplish its own aims: tactically, it succeeds not only because of its jolting suddenness, but because terrorists "...[schedule] their bomb blasts on time to catch the evening news…the explosion only exists because it is simultaneously coupled to a multimedia explosion." 2

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